Giving Gifts That Aren’t “Things”

Are you struggling for Christmas gift ideas this year? You aren’t alone. It seems that many are at a loss when it comes to the holidays. If you’re looking for something different, you might consider gifts that are a little harder to wrap.

Studies show that people are more likely to make memories with experience gifts than with merchandise from the store. Today we have some ideas that will take the focus away from buying and place it on sharing and on experiences that will create those warm memories.

Subscriptions – Give them a subscription to a magazine you think they would love or to a meal delivery service to save them time on cooking for a month. Are they into genealogy? An Ancestry.com membership might be a good choice. If they travel a lot, an auto club membership like AAA could be helpful.

Services – Some people simply don’t need or want anything but would very much appreciate help with needed services. Car washes, yard or housekeeping services and oil changes are all things most people need and gift cards are available from local service providers. Want something more personal? How about a gift certificate for a session with a local photographer?

Experiences – Want something more fun? How about a gift card for horseback riding, pottery glazing, an escape room or spa day? How about passes for national parks, miniature golf, an art gallery, the arboretum or the zoo?

Learning – Is your loved one an aspiring musician, artist, writer, chef, athlete or yogi? How about some kind of lessons or online learning? Our communities are filled with people who give swim, tennis, piano and guitar lessons. Many websites offer learning opportunities where they can go at their own pace while learning a fun new skill.

Themed gift baskets – Yes, this is a thing but you can give useful things that will be consumed or that can be used again and again. The baker in your life might appreciate a fancy new baking dish and the supplies to make some gourmet brownies. A gardener could find hours of solace in a pair of quality pruning shears, some gloves and seeds from their favorite catalogue.  Buying for a family? Give them a game night gift basket with a board game, snacks and gift card for pizza from the neighborhood pizza joint!

Do Chores – Often times an older person has an abundance of things but a real need for help with projects around the house. If you’re handy, you might be able to save them a lot of hassle by fixing a leaky faucet and winterizing their windows. Be sure to take lunch and plan to spend some time with them when you’re done!

Time – Speaking of time, plan a fun day doing what they enjoy like hiking, going to a museum or even cooking together. We heard a fantastic story about a grandmother who gifts her grandkids an experience every month. The kids receive twelve envelopes, each one containing a clue about what they will do or even the passes or cash to pay for it. Grandma and grandkids have fun together and mom and dad get some free hours once a month. This idea would work for all ages if you want to squeeze in more time with a loved one!

DIY Kits – If they’re crafty, consider giving them DIY kits for things they can use like lotion, candles, soap or ice cream. This will give them something to do, something to consume and maybe even spark a new hobby!

Gift cards – If you’re really stumped or in a rush for time, consider a gift card for something they really love like their favorite coffee shop, clothing store or photo printing service for all those pictures on their phone!

Now it’s your turn! Tell us the best experience gift you’ve given or received!

Budget, Plan For Holiday Fun

What’s your style when it comes to holiday shopping? Do you wait until Christmas Eve to start buying or do you have everything purchased and wrapped before December? What’s your spending style? If you’re like millions of Americans, you may not worry about the money until the credit card bill hits your mailbox.

What if we told you that with a little bit of planning Christmas spending can be less stressful and more fun? The key to alleviating the strain comes from two sources: Budget and Planning.

First you need to review your finances and determine how much you are able to spend on holiday related expenses. Once you have that amount, it’s time to start making a list.

A great place to start with planning this year’s holiday is to consider how much you spent last year. If you don’t remember or have notes from last year, that’s ok. Just start by making a list of every person you give to and every holiday expense.

Budgeting and planning are the best ways to stay on track during the holidays. Even Santa makes a list and checks it twice!

Budgeting and planning are the best ways to stay on track during the holidays. Even Santa makes a list and checks it twice!

Be sure to include the name of every person you shop for including your child’s teacher, your pastor or hair stylist. Add to that list other things you buy such as stocking stuffers, holiday meals, baking supplies, gift wrap, postage and shipping, Christmas cards, home décor and Christmas tree, travel expenses, charitable donations and anything else you buy or do that is extra (including post-holiday sales).

Next to each category, set a spending limit. Once you have set a spending limit on each category, add it up to make sure you are within your holiday budget. If not, check that list again to determine whether there are places to save.

Once you have a balanced budget, take a deep breath. You are halfway there!

The next step is to track spending throughout the season. Keep a running total of your purchases. If you go over budget in one category, don’t panic – just look for ways to save someplace else.

What are some practical ways to stay on track and under budget?

  • Shop with a list. When it comes to gift giving for your family, it’s a good idea to ask everyone for a wish list. This will give you a place to start and hopefully insure that everyone gets something they really want. At the very least, spend a little time brainstorming gift ideas for each person before you go shopping.
  • Be a smart consumer. If your husband requests new Blu-ray player, don’t wait until you’re in the store to think about what to get. Research online, read product descriptions and customer reviews before you say “I’ll take it.”
  • Think outside the box, the box store, that is. Consider gifts that don’t come from the mall. That cute little shop downtown may sell handmade scarves or jewelry that would make a unique gift for your mother-in-law. The candle store next door makes relaxation candles that your child’s teacher would love. Small businesses in your community often sell items you can’t find at a large retailer and the small business owner will truly appreciate every dollar you spend with them.
  • Start now. Don’t wait until the last minute to start buying. You can take your time researching the right product, cost compare and have a more pleasant buying experience when you’re not pressured to buy.
  • Use credit wisely. Many financial experts recommend shopping with cash or debit card to curb any urges to overspend. If you want the rewards points from your credit card or need to delay paying for Christmas until the first of the year, be mindful of every dollar.
  • Talk to your family about holiday priorities. Encourage them to focus more on the joy of the holidays – on spending time together decorating the tree, baking cookies and watching holiday movies – rather than on a ton of expensive gifts under the tree.

Finally, be sure to keep a record of your holiday expenses so you have a starting point for next year’s budget.

One other quick tip that could help you for next year is a Christmas Club savings account. At VCNB, you can set the amount you would like to save and we divide that amount into 26 bi-weekly deductions from your checking or savings account. In mid-October, you will receive a check or direct deposit for the amount you saved so you will have cash in hand for next year’s holiday budget.

Visit any of our 13 locations or our website to open a Christmas Club today!